When the Palacio Real decided not to allow photos, they were serious. Just got back from an afternoon at the Palacio Real (the Royal Palace), and simply holding a camera near the entrance sent our tour guide and multiple security guards off the wall.
While the palace is no longer used as the residence of the current king, Juan Carlos, and his wife Queen Sofia (they live in a "discreet" palace outside of the city in the direction of my internship), it is still used for official functions. For instance we saw the table where the king signed the paperwork to officially bring Spain into the European Union in 1985.
We took an English-language guided tour of the palace led by a short authoritative Spanish woman. Not only was she ever-vigilant for the first sign of a camera, she also constantly checked to make sure no one was mooching off of the tour for free (you could opt to go guide-less and pay a lot less). Accordingly, we moved between rooms to the tune of "Everyone with blue stickers on the tour come this way. Only people with blue stickers." in a heavy Spanish accent.
Our tour barely scratched the surface of the 2,800 rooms of the palace. We did hit a lot of highlights, including the throne room. Our guide informed us that though the room has been used by the current king and queen, they have never actually sat on their thrones. The chairs themselves have a likeness of the king and queen and were made for the couple upon Juan Carlos’s coronation in 1976. Another interesting room: right next to the throne room was the room where Carlos III had lunch everyday.
A little further down the hall was the room still used for state dinners. The room is huge and has a single table that can expand to seat up to 185 for dinner. Pretty amazing. As Tanya noted, the naming scheme for the rooms was not particularly creative. For instance, the room for state dinners was called something that translates loosely to the Dining Function Room. Some other enlightened naming choices we toured: the Silver Room, Room of Columns, Music Room, Billiards Room, and the Porcelain Room. Very practical (but with 2800 rooms, practicality is probably high on the list of priorities).
After the tour, we wandered around the plaza, I took the opportunity to take some photos (it was allowed outside), and we saw the recently-refurbished Royal Armory. The views are spectacular, as the palace is on a ridge overlooking the royal hunting grounds (now a park). You can see all the way out to the mountains (about 100 miles off).
All in all, it’s hard to imagine living in such a huge, elaborate, overwhelming building, but it was really interesting to visit. That said, if they offered me a night’s stay (or even just a state dinner? please?), I don’t think I’d turn it down ;-).